Narrato: Social Journalling for iOS 7

When it comes to journalling on your iOS device, I’ve long been a proponent of Day One, an app that I fondly enjoyed and ended up reviewing in November upon its iOS 7 update. To date, it is one of my most-used iPhone apps and remains on my home screen. It’s where I put all my private thoughts, dreams, and insecurities. So is there really room for another diary app in my life?

Well, as it turns out, yes. Narrato Journal is a journalling app that’s all about tracking your social life. It’s more of an automated diary. Since Day One doesn’t step on its toes, I’m finding the two apps live in a weird place of synchronicity. But the question remains: is Narrato worth your time? Read on to find out the answer.Like the article? You should subscribe and follow us on twitter.

A Social Journal

Let me make one thing clear: I don’t need another social network. I try a lot of them as I test out services at AppStorm and other sites, but I find I rarely stick with them. Thankfully, Narrato isn’t exactly another social network. It has social elements, but if you don’t use them, the app still has a real purpose.

It's easy to import the services you already use into Narrato.

It’s easy to import the services you already use into Narrato.

Narrato is one of those apps. It integrates with social networks to present an automated diary, fetching posts made on Twitter, Instagram, Facebook, App.net, and Foursquare. The integration isn’t automatic, though. The app doesn’t automatically throw all your social posts into one haphazard diary. That would result in a bit of a mess, especially if you spend a lot of time replying to people on Twitter or App.net.

You can easily import old posts from social services.

You can easily import old posts from social services.

Instead, the app allows you to select any posts that you want to import and it creates an entry for each one. When I started using the app, I looked over the past month, selected my favourite social posts (the ones that actually mean something to me), and imported them straight to the service. Now they’re there permanently.

The app also allows you to share certain diaries, too. This is one unique aspect of Narrato: instead of allowing you only to write posts and import them from social networks, it allows you to turn a diary into a social feed. This is only possible because you can create multiple diaries in the app. The real-world comparison would be a public memoir and a private journal. The app allows you to have both.

The app organizes your public and private journals into different menu selections.

The app organizes your public and private journals into different menu selections.

Sharing your “public memoir,” as I’ll call it, creates a linkable webpage with each post shared like a blog. It’s nice, but I’m not sure it’s something I would use personally. It would be easier for me to share select posts to Twitter or Facebook (which you can do as well).

But I think the real problem is the separate journals for private and public entries. I feel like we’d be better off with shareable tags instead of folders. Let’s say I write about dogs and coffee, but I want to share all my posts about coffee. I’d prefer it if Narrato could let me tag my posts as “#coffee” or “#dog” for easy reference. If I wanted to tag a post as both, I could add both tags to a post. If I have a journal for both dogs and coffee, and the posts about coffee are public, they’d automatically be shared whether they were also tagged as dogs or not.

After a few days of use, or months, you'll end up with something a little bit like this.

After a few days of use, or months, you’ll end up with something a little bit like this.

In that sense, you could occasionally write about successes in your journal that you want shared. Sharing them would be as easy as giving them the tag “#success”. But beyond that, all the other posts in your journal would remain private. This would just be a case of allowing tag creation and including a little toggle to indicate whether a tag is public or private. It would solve my problems with the organization of the app.

My problem, right now, is pretty simple: the menu you select a diary from is silly. There are no other options, except a Hamburger button for navigation that could probably be placed anywhere else in the app. If Narrato wants to keep the app as simple as possible, there’s no reason to include this menu if they use tags instead. Opening the app could take you straight to your diary with no fuss.

My Other Thoughts

Of course, if they want to keep the app as is, I have some other ideas too. I’d love to see a This Day In History option in the menu as well. Day One doesn’t do this, forcing you to manually select the calendar and find the date, which is a bit cumbersome. Adding a This Day In History diary by default also creates a nostalgia factor. If the app could search through your social networks and display relevant posts from years gone by, that too would be a huge perk.

Photos look great and come with mapped locations.

Photos look great and come with mapped locations.

I also think the app needs a couple little design flourishes. I find the iconography, while crisp, to be slightly unclear when you first start using the app. Placing icons inside circular buttons also makes it look a little overwhelming visually.

Finally, I have one massive concern that really holds me back from a recommendation: export. I tried to export my data, but there was no easy way for me to do that. The option exists in the app’s settings, but it required navigating to the Narrato website. The website never loaded for me.

Adding posts is a piece of cake.

Adding posts is a piece of cake.

Here’s the thing: the value of a paper journal lies in its permanence. Nothing digital is permanent. It is what makes working in technology fascinating, liberating, and terrifying. I don’t know how long Narrato will last, but I do know that I want an easy way to get my data out should I decide to leave or should Narrato ever cease to exist — preferably, I’d like to export my data as a plain text file (the best option, thanks to its relevancy) or PDF. That Narrato doesn’t make both of these options easier for me to access within the app (I shouldn’t have to go to the website) is its biggest downfall.

At the End of the Day…

When it comes down to it, Narrato is nowhere near as pleasant as Day One. But Day One has had a lot of time to get ahead, and Narrato arguably serves a different purpose. It’s more social. It’s an intriguing premise for a journalling app, and I think it works well, but I also think it could be better.

Thankfully, development at Narrato is a constant thing that shows no signs of slowing down. They’re always introducing new features. That’s important because Narrato is only a little more than halfway there right now. They’ve identified their core strengths and made it easy to import and export social feeds in the app, but they haven’t ironed out the best ways to do any of those things yet. (Plus side: the app is universal, so it also works well and syncs with an iPad.) I’m hoping Narrato gets there sooner rather than later, because it does show some exciting promise.


Summary

Narrato shows promise and it's more than half-baked, but I think it needs a little refinement.

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